Providing Support is Not an Easy Task



I started working at WooThemes nearly 3 years ago as a support technician. And before joining Woo I worked with Pippin Williamson, doing support for all his premium plugins and early versions of Easy Digital Downloads. In the meantime, I also tried to provide to support to my own customers. And from what I can tell, providing support is not an easy task.

The first response time will determine the customer satisfaction

That’s probably the most important element that will have an impact on customers satisfaction. If you are late in replying, it’s not good! 24 hours seems to be a decent delay between the moment the ticket was submitted and the 1st response time (having in mind that we play with different timezones). But is it always the case? To be honest, at Woo we struggled a bit in the last couple months, but the good news is that we recently moved many people to support and in the days to come the 1st response time should decrease quickly.

Don’t think like a dev, but act like a dev

You know your products, that’s for sure, but sometimes your customers find ways to use your plugins in a way that you didn’t expect and that can lead to some strange behaviors. Your customers can also combine some of your products and can experience incompatibility issues. You need to test all the time, and you need to ask non-devs to test as well because if you are a dev you will expect and guess how the features are supposed to work. But a newbie can do things that you would consider as weird, and you need to anticipate. In terms of compatibilities issues, you need to test all your products and make sure that they all work together, and it can be tricky. At Woo, with more than 400 products we can’t test all combinations, and when we find an issue we need to fix it really quickly. Hopefully, it’s not frequent!

Don’t take it personally

With every good support platform, an email is generally sent to your customers after you solved a ticket, and this email allows your customers to let you know their level of satisfaction, and even leave a comment. The upside is that you can understand what worked and what failed, but sometimes you get a bad rating, or even worse your customers insult you. My advice: don’t take it personally, never. Because there’s always a reason behind that frustration, you need to know how you can improve the workflow for the next incoming tickets. Usually, non-respectful customers are unsatisfied because of a reason you can’t solve by your own, or because the request is outside the scope of your support policy.

Ask for details, always

I can’t tell how many times I had to answer tickets with not enough elements to provide support: “It’s broken”, “It stopped working”, “Your product sucks”… great guys, but what can I do with that? I need at least the product name, the site URL, and a description of the issue. In that case, I don’t spend too much time on the ticket, I just use a TextExpander snippet to ask for clarification simply because it’s the best way to solve the ticket and, more importantly, educate customers.

Educate your customers

Talking about customer education, I would say that it’s part of the workflow. The better your customers will know how to post a ticket the quicker you’ll be able to solve them. It’s a win-win process. Let them know what you need, let them know how to be precise and how to help you help them. Many customers think that support people just don’t care, but it’s entirely false. When you do support your job is to help, that’s your main goal, that’s the one you want to achieve because you prefer having happy customers than unsatisfied customers. So you need to be clear with your customers: you want to help them, and you need them to help you.

Providing support in customer’s native language

For international companies like Automattic, it’s tricky to be able to start providing support in customer’s native language. Simply because there are too many languages to handle. If you can, do it, if not then explain to your customers why you can’t answer in French, Spanish, or Danish. But some customers still send tickets in their language, in that case, I use a snippet in the customer language to explain that I will continue in English. The main reason is that my colleagues don’t have to translate the whole conversation to create a follow-up.

Talk to a friend

When answering a ticket, you need to use a simple vocabulary, and talk to the customer as if you were on a couch with a friend. No need to be too informal, customers want replies they can understand. No need to be too technical either, explain the situation, but don’t go too deep though.

Update your docs

Docs are crucial to reduce the number of tickets you get every day. So, each time you face a new issue, update your doc, that will help the next customers to solve the same issue without having to create a ticket. You can also use videos in your docs, it’s a great way to explain step-by-step actions, but be sure to stay up to date. Also, make sure your docs search engine is powerful and precise. If not, if you think your search form is too weak in providing good results, improve your docs pages’ SEO.

Be nice, always and forever

Finally, no matter how bad your day is, you have to be nice to your customers. Don’t let your customers feel your stress, or your anxiety. Being fast and nice will always be appreciated by your customers even if you don’t solve the ticket in one answer. Use nice simple words, your customers want to talk with humans, not robots.

“It’s going to be rainy this weekend in San Francisco, don’t forget your umbrella!”

For a few months I tried a simple thing:  after replying to a ticket I added a small sentence based on the customer’s local weather (provided by our internal tool), and I have to admit that worked great. Adding “It’s going to be rainy this weekend in San Francisco, don’t forget your umbrella!” or “Enjoy the sun tomorrow, it will be the sunniest day in Toronto this week” breaks the barrier between people, try it!

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